In the years that followed the first cross circulation procedure in 1954 and the development of the DeWall Bubble Oxygenator in 1955, the frequent published articles and television broadcasts about C. Walton Lillehei and his patients created a high public profile for the surgeon. The “Man of the Year” in Minnesota for 1957 received many letters from citizens of the state as well as beyond inquiring about the procedures for open heart surgery devised at the University of Minnesota. Schoolchildren wrote to gather information for science projects about the heart. Ordinary citizens wrote to ask if they could witness an operation, a request which Lillehei often granted.
By 1958, Lillehei needed only to reply to requests from the public by referring them to a single publication. In 1958, The Operation: A Minute By Minute Account of a Heart Operation - and the Story of Medicine and Surgery that Led Up To It, was published. Written by Leonard Engel, a nationally known journalist and medical author, the book tells the story of the history of cardiac surgery and profiles the milestones in intracardiac procedures devised at the University of Minnesota.